This coffee buying trip to Nicaragua marks the 30th year Thanksgiving Coffee has traveled to this beautiful country. It is also the first year that Thanksgiving Coffee is sending staff without the guidance and counseling of CEO Co-Founder Paul Katzeff.
The trip represents the “passing of the torch” to a new generation. It’s a generation that grew up with coffee as a medium for carrying the message of the people, their craftsmanship, and their hope for a better life through coffee cultivation.
Jacob and Jonah carried The Company message to the cooperatives that our mission, and the value we place on long term relationships, bridges generations. We are in this together, and prosperity for all is the common thread we value most.
– Paul Katzeff
Adventures at Origin: Nicaragua
Jacob Long, Nicholas Hoskyns, and I (Jonah Katzeff) traveled together from March 23rd-27th. We visited first and second level coffee cooperatives that produce approximately 25% of our annual green coffee purchases. We cupped and selected our Nicaraguan coffees for 2015, met with cooperative leaders and farmers, and visited beautiful coffee farms.
We were received warmly everywhere. I am so grateful to the hundreds of hands that touch coffee, from the time it is picked to when it is exported. Our 2015 Nicaraguan coffees will be exceptional. The new harvest will be available starting in late May.
Solcafe and Byron Corrales’ farm visit
• We cupped the Solidaridad washed and dry-processed (natural) micro lots, along with Byron’s washed and dry-processed coffees in the morning at Solcafe- the dry mill that processes and exports coffees from first level cooperatives.
• Cecocafen is the second level cooperative that owns the dry mill and is the exporter for many first level cooperatives.
• They have constructed a new cupping lab that is much more spacious than the older one. It was interesting to see on this visit that three cupping labs had been moved to new locations.
• We then traveled to Byron’s farm for a delicious lunch consisting of beets, carrots, squash, potatoes, cheese, tortillas, gallo pinto (rice and beans), and mini chicken tamales.
• After lunch, Jacob and I toured Byron’s two farms with Byron and his daughter, Sara.
• Byron showed us the tree where Paul, Byron, and Arnulfo (Byron’s grandfather) first agreed to work together 22 years ago (in the photo at left).
• We learned about some of the biodynamic techniques Byron is applying to the land. Byron expressed that the 3 most important factors resulting in great coffee are: the producer/farmer, the quality of the soil, and the skill of the roaster.
• We also learned about some of the negative effects resulting from climate change on his coffee trees – fruit not ripening at all, or not ripening fully, and trees flowering now [end of March] when they typically flower in May.
• Byron is taking action now by replacing older trees with ones that are more resistant to climate change. He is also planting more shade trees to protect the coffee trees from the sun.
• He expressed concern that if changes are not made now, there may be a lot less coffee in the future.
• We visited a small grove of a variety of pine trees (7 total) that Byron smuggled back from Brazil. There are no other varieties of this pine in Nicaragua.
• We then returned to Byron’s farm called Finca de Los Pinos and said our goodbyes to Byron’s parents, and returned to Matagalpa for the evening.
• We enjoyed pizza with the Corrales family in Matagalpa!
This story will continue in our next post, so check back soon!
The green coffee sourcing team:
Nicholas (on right) is the Managing Director of Etico. He organized our visit and traveled with us throughout the week. Nicholas was born in England, but Nicaragua is his adopted home after spending almost 25 years there! Etico imports our coffees from Nicaragua as well as green coffees from Guatemala, Mexico, Rwanda, and Uganda.
Jacob (second from right) is the Director of Coffee Control and Roastmaster at Thanksgiving Coffee. He is responsible for developing the roast profiles of all our single origins, blends, and decafs. He approves all the green coffees we purchase and ensures that the coffee roasted at Thanksgiving is consistent roast after roast.
Jonah (on left) works in Business Development and as an Account Manger. He serves in a variety of roles that include green coffee sourcing, managing the San Francisco Bay Area accounts, and special projects, as assigned by Senior Management.
By Mischa Hedges, Director of Communications
At Thanksgiving Coffee Company, we’re always talking about how to connect our coffee community. We strive to create a space for dialogue between coffee drinkers and coffee farmers – space that allows for gratitude, appreciation and knowledge about coffee to be shared. With social media and increased global connectivity, it’s becoming much easier than it used to be to do that. For instance, check out this new feature on our website:
If you’ve enjoyed one of our single origin coffees recently, you can visit our “Farmers” page and write a message to the coffee farmer or cooperative who grew it.
Traveling to your coffee’s country of origin and meeting your coffee farmer in person is the richest way to connect, but that’s not an option for most people. We’re hoping this new feature on our website will enable you to deepen your relationship with your coffee.
Some of the farmers and cooperatives we partner with are Facebook users, and can respond directly to your messages! In other cases, we’ll gather and send your messages to the farmers and cooperatives we work with so they can see your appreciation.
Let us know what you think of this new feature…
In February of 2013, Thanksgiving Coffee staff visited the farm of Alexa Marín Colindres, a member of the PRODECOOP Cooperative in Nicaragua. We toured her farm, listened to her heartbreaking story, and wondered how we could help. Later that day, we did a blind cupping of 20 of the cooperative’s coffees, and asked that her coffee be included.
We sipped and slurped for two hours to get through them all, scoring each coffee on Fragrance, Aroma, Body, Acidity, Flavor Notes and Balance. One coffee was, hands down, the best on the table – and it turned out to be Alexa’s. We bought 10 sacks (all that was available), and are proud to offer you this special coffee, and invite you to help.
Meet Alexa. She lives with her two teenage sons in the mountains of Northern Nicaragua, where they focus on growing the best coffee possible. She has been a coffee farmer for many years and has worked with the cooperative PRODECOOP since 1992.
In 2013, Alexa noticed that the leaves on her coffee trees were affected by La Roya, a fungal disease which attacks the leaves and prevents them from converting sunlight into energy. The coffee cherries turn brown and fall off before ripening, and the tree eventually dies.
La Roya is thought by many in the coffee industry to be one of the many challenges brought on by Climate Change. This disease is sweeping across coffee country, devastating the coffee trees of many small, family farmers – and threatening their way of life.
For some, this will mean starting over – even on a new piece of unaffected land. For others, it may mean removing or pruning affected trees and replanting where necessary.
Want to Help? Support Project: La Roya
Alexa’s coffee is fabulous and we want her coffee farm to thrive – so we decided to rally our customers to support her and other farmers battling La Roya. In March 2014, we launched Project: La Roya with our partners at The Social Business Network (SBN) in Nicaragua.
The project will raise $10,000 to help the farmers of PRODECOOP stop the spread of this disease and re-plant 5,000 coffee trees that have been affected. $2 from every bag of Finca de Alexa coffee sold will be invested in Project: La Roya.
Our partners at Ético: The Ethical Trading Company, along with the British NGO Social Business Network are pioneering the first ever initiative to Recognize the Unpaid Work of Women in Ethical Supply Chains.
Traditionally, the price for commodity products (like coffee) include only direct input and labor costs, and fail to recognize or take into account the supporting unpaid work, which is done mainly by women. This is the first time that rural women’s unpaid work has been recognized as a necessary input into production – one that should be valued and remunerated.
The initiative developed in 2008 during a visit of the Body Shop with the Juan Francisco Paz Silva Cooperative in Achuapa, Nicaragua. Ético gender advisor Catherine Hoskyns conducted a pilot study of women’s labor in sesame production. Her initial findings revealed that when women’s indirect labor (eg. cooking food for field laborers) and more general domestic work are included, this counts for around 22% of the total labor input in sesame.
The results of the study were used to apply an additional cost to the price of the sesame oil for cosmetics, and has since been used to apply similar costs to the sales of coffee from Nicaraguan Cooperatives. The Cooperatives use the increase in price margin to organize women’s empowerment activities in their communities, such as education, savings and loans schemes and labor organization, which bring women together and strengthen the cooperatives.
Nick Hoskyns, Founding Director of Ético, states, “when you bring together committed partners, you can use business to effect real change….with such good collaborators, we have shown that we can still make trade fairer, just as we did with the establishment of Fair Trade.” Hoskyns credits cooperative organizations with being instrumental in the implementation of this initiative and using the additional funds so effectively for women’s empowerment.
At Thanksgiving Coffee, we’re proud to partner with Ético to implement projects at origin.
by Paul Katzeff | CEO, Thanksgiving Coffee
“Rust” is a word with an ominous sound. It ruins older cars, renders tools useless, and is a major reason for the use of paint to preserve everything made from iron. In Central America there are two kinds of rust. The kind that corrodes iron and the kind that kills coffee trees. The latter rust, called “La Roya” is a Fungus that is pernicious. It lives on the leaves, sucking the life out of them. They fall off and do not return. Coffee cherries never ripen, and the tree eventually dies. This is not a good thing for a coffee farmer whose survival depends on coffee.
La Roya is worse than a 60 cent per pound market price, which is a monumental crisis, but there is always another season, and hope for higher prices for the farmer. La Roya is no crop, then three to five years of rehabilitation of the coffee farm. In other words, it is the end of family life on the farm. It is the end of a way of life, of culture, of living on the land. It means hunger, it means migration to the cities, it means over crowding and the deterioration of family life as country people are forced to work in urban factories making clothing for two dollars a day.
La Roya is here and unless a major battle is waged to beat it back, Central American coffee will be a thing of the past, and coffee prices will rise as the supply of quality coffee is diminished. This is not Chicken Little talking here. This is absolutely a disaster about to happen – this year.
This February, I was in the Nuevo Segovia Region of Nicaragua on a coffee buying trip. I visited the farm of a member of the PRODECOOP Cooperative. Alexa and her two teenage sons live two kilometers from the Honduras boarder. Many of their coffee trees are affected by La Roya, and are starting to lose their leaves. They got a crop this year, but next year they expect to get 50% less. I have no idea how they will be able to continue making a living. They produced 10 sacks (1500 lbs) this year, for which we paid $ 2.75 per pound. That was double the world price and the highest we could afford to pay.
Alexa’s coffee is fabulous and we want her coffee farm to thrive. We want her to be able to refresh her trees and beat the Rust. Next year, she will need to get $ 5.50/lb. to survive on her farm. Will you support our effort by paying $2.75 more per pound for her coffee next year? Would you pay more than $15.00 for a bag of her coffee?
Well, first you have to taste it. We will present her coffee to our public in July when it arrives. It is going to cost her about $8,000 to rehabilitate her farm. We are going to try to raise that money between now and December.
That’s the way Direct Trade works – we are all in this coffee thing together.
Paul Katzeff, CEO
Thanksgiving Coffee Company
Two months ago, we helped to connect Molly Gore of the Bay Area Coffee Community with some of our partners at origin in Nicaragua. On her way back from coffee country, Molly wrote a beautiful letter back to our co-founder. We felt the post encapsulated many of the feelings that we have when we travel to origin, and so we asked if we could share her letter on our blog. Here it is, courtesy of Molly. Hope you enjoy!
Jan 28, 2013
Byron & Molly
photo courtesy Molly Gore, 2013
I’m writing you on my way out of Managua, lamenting leaving, and basking in an upwelling of inspiration. Rachel was a wonderful guide through coffee country. We carved our way into the mountains to Matagalpa, where I met Byron. Where I left my soul to steep. His vision is enrapturing, and kindred to a sensibility deep in my own heart. There is something about his farm that wraps you up, that feels important and prophetic. I’m still daydreaming of surrendering myself onto his land to work through the seasons. And then on to Jinotega. And Fatima! SOPPEXCCA! I’m so honored to have had the chance to speak with her. The more I ask about the mechanics of community development, about the roots of all these remarkable projects, the more it seems that she is at the bottom of the things I saw.
Before I came, I really had no idea how far SOPPEXCCA’s impact reached into the community, or even what a cooperative’s impact looked like.
photo by Mischa Hedges, 2013
I’ve seen and heard about cooperative efforts failing when ideas come from the outside. And to see something different, SOPPEXCCA’s model, that is so solidly and effectively empowering, makes me want to yell and preach. It swells my faith to see success this way, to see the kind of culture born from a model like this. I learned so much about what has to be done to make impact last. And what struck me, unexpected, was the positive impact that rippled into lives of those who were not even members. The entire community. The co-op holds up so much more than just itself, I was amazed. Oh! And! A gender committee! To see its effect trickle so readily into projects and relationships, that was amazing.
We stayed with Antonio and Norma at Los Alpes on their farm for a night. They took us to the school, the store, we traipsed through their land, the wet mill, the gravity pump. Saw the cherries at the end of harvest, the rust. I heard their stories. And ate a hell of a lot of plantains. Visited the SOPPEXCCA cafe, was led through a cupping, and toured the beneficio and heard stories from the women’s workers’ cooperative.
It’s magic to see so much push behind their ideas, especially when machismo still runs so thick. They tell me how much they’ve changed, and their lives have changed, through capacitaciones and their own empowered movement.
Coffee Cherries in Nicaragua
photo by Mischa Hedges, 2013
I’m so moved by the integrity here. It runs deep. I’m not sure what I expected, and I know I only saw a fraction of this world, and a highly positive side, but feeling that the culture of a place can actually shift, that a population can be lifted, sustainably supported when you get it right, and feeling the visions of poets who are the guardians of the earth, reminds me of what’s possible. The story is so abstract until you go. I told you I wanted to understand this relationship, between quality and empowerment. It’s still incredible to me that I have the opportunity to learn this way. And, at the same time, I realize there’s no other way.
I’ve seen the shape of the difference made on the ground, and I want to help. I’m working on the best way to proliferate all the information and heartchange that I’ve gleaned from this trip into the coffee community up here. Planning quite a bit of writing on it. I’m still working out my role in the scheme of things, I feel called as some kind of liaison, but I suppose this will take shape organically if it is supposed to as time goes on.
If anything, my responsibilities as a human are making themselves clearer, taking more concrete shape in a way.
Nicaraguan Coffee Country
photo by Mischa Hedges, 2013
I apologize if this was lengthy, but I wanted to extend a grand thank you for introducing me to all this. If anything, my responsibilities as a human are making themselves clearer, taking more concrete shape in a way. And the amount of things I don’t know seems to grow larger the more I explore. But I suppose that’s a good thing. Please let me know what more I can do to support these projects, and the work that’s being done.
Thank you, from my heart. It’s a beautiful thing to see the kind of world that Thanksgiving Coffee nurtures. Whenever it is I see you next, I hope it’s soon. And always, thank you for the encouragement.
Cherry pulp and monkeys,
A guest post by Molly Gore, Bay Area Coffee Community
Molly handles PR + Marketing for the Bay Area Coffee Community and writes for the SFWeekly food blog.
In Early February, 12 Thanksgiving Coffee staff, partners and friends traveled to Nicaragua to meet farmers and cooperatives, start new sustainability projects and select the best coffees for 2013.
We visited the cooperatives and farmers that we buy coffee from, picked coffee on a small farm, tried our hands at turning coffee on the drying patios, learned about many exciting sustainability projects and cupped some excellent coffees. In every encounter with our partners in Nicaragua, we participated in heartening conversations about coffee and sustainability, built and strengthened relationships, learned a tremendous amount about coffee and ourselves, and saw a glimpse of the future of coffee.
Each of us is looking forward to the next opportunity we have to connect with our friends in Nicaragua, and to sharing our stories here at home over an excellent cup of Nicaraguan coffee. As our partners at Six Degrees Coffee say, “Coffee Connects Us.” After this year’s trip to Nicaragua, we feel even more deeply connected to the people and places where our coffees are sourced from.
—> See more photos from our trip.
Many of our blends include beans from Nicaragua…here are a few that feature 90% or more Nicaraguan coffee:
Part 2 in a series on brewing excellent coffee.
– By Jacob Long, Roasting & Quality Control Manager at Thanksgiving Coffee
How coffee is brewed is just as important as how it’s grown and roasted. Each step matters.
As it says on the bottom of our bags: “There is magic inside this package – only you can let it out!”
Since its introduction, the Japanese-made Hario v60 dripper has taken a strong foothold in specialty coffeehouses and cafes in the U.S. and around the globe. Hario, which translates to “the king of glass”, is a heat-resistant glassware company which was founded in 1921. In addition to drippers, Hario also produces high quality kettles, servers, and hand crank grinders.
While aesthetically pleasing, the Hario v60 dripper is a manual pour-over method, which requires attention to detail in order to produce a high quality cup of coffee. Finding the right grind and perfecting the pour are key to mastering the Hario dripper. We recommend using the Hario Buono Kettle, as it has a very narrow spout which aids in controlling the pour.
Our brewing guide outlines basic preparation, which I will expand upon in this post. If followed, it will produce a flavorful, clean cup of coffee with a medium body.
»»» Grind your coffee
Start with a medium-fine grind, coarser than espresso yet finer than a standard drip grind. Somewhere between the texture of granulated sugar and couscous.
1. Measure out 1.5 grams of ground coffee for every ounce of water.
If a scale isn’t available, use 2 level tablespoons of ground coffee for every 8 ounces of water. Brewing coffee using this ratio will ensure a good extraction, and allow the flavor profile of the coffee to be fully appreciated.
2. Place paper filter in dripper over cup or server.
3. Bring water to boil and pour a small amount through the filter-lined dripper.
Make sure to wet the entire filter – this rinses the filter so there’s no “paper taste” in your coffee and warms your cup or server.
4. Let the boiling water cool to 200 degrees.
Use a thermometer or wait about 2 minutes. Before starting to brew, empty the water that was used to rinse the filter.
5. Place ground coffee in the rinsed and filter-lined dripper.
Dispense just enough water to saturate the grounds and create a “bloom”. This allows the coffee to off-gas, enabling a more even extraction. Wait 30-45 seconds or until the coffee settles before continuing your pour.
6. As the bloom settles, begin to dispense water.
Pour as slowly as possible directly in the center of the brew cone.
Stop pouring as necessary so that the water never reaches above the original level of the bloom. This will require stopping the pour every 15-30 seconds, with the goal of dispensing the total amount of water used to brew in about 3 minutes.
7. Remove the used filter and coffee.
Swirl the brewed coffee for 10 seconds. This mixes and aerates your coffee and ensures an even, consistent body and taste.
8. Serve and enjoy immediately.
If you’ll be serving the coffee later, transfer to a thermos or carafe to keep it hot.
This month, we partnered with Carrotmob to raise support for a new sustainability project: shipping coffee on sailing ships from Nicaragua and Peru into Fort Bragg’s Noyo Harbor!
Carrotmob is a San Francisco-based organization dedicated to advancing sustainable business practices through positive incentives. This is Carrotmob’s first large-scale campaign – and we’re proud to partner with them to advance this project. Here’s how it works:
“In a Carrotmob campaign, a group of people offers to spend their money to support a business, and in return the business agrees to take an action that the people care about. We are called Carrotmob because we use the “carrot” instead of the stick.” – from the Carrotmob website
Since virtually all coffee is grown within 1,000 miles from the equator, green coffee is currently shipped from its origin on large container ships, which burn bunker fuel, a low-grade diesel that emits vast amounts of smog-forming pollution and carbon dioxide. We receive these shipments from Oakland, California and drive our beans to Fort Bragg to roast and bag for our customers. We’re interested in being the first company in modern times to ship coffee by wind – lowering our carbon footprint and setting an example for the coffee industry.
If the Carrotmob campaign generates $150,000 in coffee sales during its 20-day run, we will have enough resources to begin to pursue our dream of shipping coffee by wind. Our first step will be to conduct a feasibility study to assess the costs, efficiency and risks involved in transporting our coffee beans on sailing ships – it has to make economic and environmental sense if we choose to move forward with shipping coffee on sailing ships. If it does, we’ll plan our maiden voyage.
Our maiden voyage would bring a load of green coffee from Nicaragua straight into Fort Bragg’s Noyo Harbor, a 6 week roundtrip.
If the maiden voyage proved to be successful, we’d also ship coffee from Peru, an 8 week roundtrip, carrying some if not all of our annual purchases from these origins.
If the campaign doesn’t reach the $150,000 goal, the funds raised for this effort will be directed toward The Resilience Fund – our nonprofit social venture that funds sustainability projects in coffee-growing regions.
We strive to do our best for people and the planet while sourcing and roasting our coffee – through our direct trade relationships, investments in infrastructure and training, our fair trade and organic certified coffees, and by creating long-lasting relationships with the people, communities and ecosystems that are touched by our coffee business.
We’re constantly searching for the cleanest, most efficient distribution system to source our beans and get roasted coffee to our customers. This partnership with Carrotmob is the latest in this effort.
For more information or to support the campaign, visit carrotmob.org/thanksgiving
While coffee sales tend to sag slightly in summertime, socializing increases exponentially. We love giving tours of our space, offering up great coffees to taste, walking the path that coffee takes in our warehouse from the loading dock through the roasting room and production floor, outside to the community garden planted on land we donated. Last week we had a number of visitors (some planned, some drop-ins) that represented the total spectrum of our business.
One was a longstanding customer from neighboring Lake County (he and his wife came to the coast to escape the blistering heat inland) that wanted an exact recipe for brewing coffee into his 2 cup French Press. We shared ours with him and gave him a sneak peak at our forthcoming brewing guide. Be sure to get in touch if you would like a copy of it when it’s available.
Another was from Sadao, the manager at the acclaimed San Francisco restaurant Coco500 and his partner Katie. They were excited to do side-by-side tastings of our seasonal single origin coffees. Coco500 is a great partner to us, as inspired as we are about identifying and showcasing unique characteristics in coffees and thinking about flavor profiles and pairings with seasonal food.
Kieran Smith, an engineer who was volunteering with Fair Trade Vancouver got inspired to bike from his home city in British Columbia to Santiago, Chile (he stopped and saw us along the way, three and a half weeks into a journey he expected to take 9 months in total). He was inspired to lift the veil off of Fair Trade as most consumers know it and talk about ethics in trade and sustainability along the supply chain. We drank espresso, walked around, and he took still photos and shot video of our operations. He asked questions about the cooperatives we work with around the world and how we think about and define “community empowerment”. If we ever get our hands on that video, I’ll be sure to share. In the meantime you can follow along on his blog.
Finally, we were visited by the team from Fundacion MangoMundo a new foundation committed to raising awareness about Nicaragua and connecting more folks to the beautiful arts, crafts, and agricultural products (like coffee) that Nicaragua boasts. They invited Paul to speak to a group of high school students in San Francisco about his work in Nicaragua that began in the mid-1980’s. We drank Byron’s Maracaturra, a coffee that we look forward to year after year that had just arrived from the Matagalpa region grown by an amazing farmer that we have been buying from for two decades.
Each of these visitors came with a unique interest and appreciation for our work. Sometimes we get wrapped up in the technical side – trying to help the home brewer achieve a more perfect cup. Sometimes we get wholly focused on seasonality and educating our customers about what’s fresh and where it’s coming from. Othertimes we are storytellers, focused on being a bridge between our customers and the communities where our coffee grows – talking about exciting projects on the ground and the farmers we know around the world– and some people connect with how we began, as a company committed to using coffee as a medium to get out a message about important issues by partnering with organizations doing meaningful work. We are all of these things, a relationship-focused company that for nearly 40 years has been trying to do better business.
Thank you for helping us grow and evolve and challenge ourselves. We can’t wait to celebrate 40 years with you next year!!